Week 12 Preview: Liberty
The Hokies will travel the short distance to Lynchburg this weekend to take on the Flames of Liberty at Noon. The Hokies spiral downward continued last week with a 24-7 loss in Durham against Duke. The Flames are also coming off a disappointing loss to UConn 36-33. The week before the Flames had beaten an SEC opponent in Arkansas with a goal line stand. Liberty was ranked 23rd in the AP poll before losing to UConn. The Hokies come limping in at 2-8 trying to salvage something here at the end of the year. Tech has not lost eight games in a row since 1950 and they are staring that stat right in the face coming into play Saturday. Tech will look to take any positivity into the offseason. It would certainly be a big win to build momentum into the offseason for a team who has certainly underwhelmed this year.
Liberty Offense: Charlie Brewer, brother of former VT quarterback Michael Brewer was the expected starter this year transferring in from Utah. He broke his hand in game one and they have turned to Johnathan Bennett, who has been the primary starter as of late. He has thrown for 1,364 yards and 12 TDs on the year. The receiver group for the Flames is top heavy with Demario Douglas seeing the most targets and catches this year by a wide margin. He was 54 catches on the year for 830 yards and 6 touchdowns. He is also a threat on the ground and eclipsed 100 yard rushing last week against UConn. Bennett loves to go deep and give Douglas opportunities from the slot, so the Hokies will need to know where Douglas is at every snap.
On the ground the Flames have rotated a few backs in and have recently had a few injuries. Dae Dae Hunter is a transfer from Hawaii who had a knee injury and is not expected to play this weekend. Shedro Louis will likely be the main back this week after missing last week due to personal reasons. He is averaging 4.1 yards a carry on 94 attempts this year. T.J. Green was the guy last week while Louis was away and did run for 119 on 24 attempts. The Flames big plays typically come from Douglas through the air or on sweeps and end arounds, but if they can establish a solid run game it will be tough for the Hokies to stop a balanced attack. This matchup does not suit the Hokies on paper because they are better at stopping the run, but the Liberty offense typically gets chunk plays through the air. Douglas is a real matchup problem in the slot for the Hokies and he may even see some double teams as the game progresses. The key will be limiting the big play and pressuring Bennett and generating some turnovers.
Liberty Defense: The Liberty defense lives in the backfield. They are averaging nine tackles for loss per game which is good for top in the nation. Seven players on the Liberty defense have more than three sacks on the year where the Hokies only have TyJuann Garbutt with more than three. The Flames thrive at stopping the run so if the Hokies are going to have a chance to win this game, they will need Wells to have time and to deliver some solid throws down the field. Durrell Johnson has been the most successful pressure guy on the end with 7 sacks on the year. The trenches do not look good on paper for the Hokies as the line has really struggled on the year giving up pressures and Liberty’s defense is effective at getting penetration.
Liberty is a little banged up in the secondary and their strength has certainly been the front seven as discussed. Again, on paper this is not a situation that favors the Hokies. Virginia Tech has wanted to try to establish the run all year, but this is a game where they will have to be able to convert down the field in chunks if they want to succeed. Da’wain Lofton showed some big play ability early in the game last week against Duke. He will have to come with that ability consistently along with Kaleb Smith. The running back situation has been anything but successful for Tech after Thomas went down with injury. I would expect to see some creativity in the play calling with nothing really left to lose for the team this year.
Prediction: It is a little bit of a strange spot for Liberty coming off a loss to UConn last week after an overall successful year. This game will have a little added element to it being a battle of in-state foes. Recruiting is certainly on the line in this game and Liberty is really building quite a program as an independent. They actually have the best record of all independent teams this season. This matchup looks really dangerous for the Hokies and the team frankly looked a bit lack luster for the last three quarters of the Duke game. The last time these two teams played was an exciting game ending in a Liberty field goal to win it. Can the Hokies get up for an in-state game with a slight revenge factor looming over it? I think this one might be a little closer than expected as the Hokies will look to play for some pride but Liberty is just the better team and will pull it out.
Liberty 27 Virginia Tech 20